ON THE SCENE: Perfect ‘Puffs’ play at North Country School

River Gray, Julia Lamport and Wyatt Lustberg pose with theater teacher Courtney Allen. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

The “Puffs” play is not about a magic dragon who lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee; instead, it provides a backstory look at the Hufflepuffs, the oft-derided class of at times hapless magicians at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“Puffs” was produced, performed and staged on May 22 and 23 by about 90% of the students of North Country School, a magical school in its own right. It takes 119 hours to listen to all the Harry Potter books or 20 hours to watch all the films sans prequels, which the students condensed into a two-hour play. Consequently, the performances resulted in a scattershot approach at times when a young wizard would race out on stage to hurdle a chapter condensed into one line, and then scamper off the stage.

Reading the books, listening to the tapes and watching the movies beforehand is beneficial, yet many in the audience, especially the younger students who hadn’t participated in the play, didn’t miss any element. For everyone, it was an exciting experience to behold.

Some evil characters, like the Serpent of Slytherin and the soulless Dementors who could deprive human minds of happiness and intelligence and guard the wizard prison, Azkaban, appeared briefly. Even so, their presence was deeply felt by the audience as the student artisans created magnificent props that captured the essence of so many aspects of the Harry Potter series.

The U.S. bobsled team would have been hard-pressed to keep up with the 14-member “Puffs” stage crew who dashed in and off the stage in moments of darkness to turn the two-story castle inside and out, set up and disassemble classrooms and rearrange a myriad of other spaces at breakneck speed. Given the opportunity, for them to launch a four-man bobsled from standing still to hurdling out of the start in 4.7 seconds would have seemed like a flick of the wrist, as after doing so, they’d be heading off to give flight to a flock of Dementors and morph a massive castle.

Tina places the sorting hat on Angelina Lin. Alina Jiang is on the right. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“I’ve helped build two sets and performed the music for a third play,” said multi-talented Marley Tracy-Deuss, a ninth grader who helped build and whip around the timber-framed castle. “I’m not good at acting, but I like making music. However, as I wanted to work with Larry (Robjent) one last time, I opted for the stage crew for ‘Puffs.’ Working with Larry is always eventful.”

“I like the hustle and bustle of the stage crew,” added fellow ninth grader Adela Eastman, a lead fabricator and flyer of Dementors.

Another well-done artifact was the animated Hogwart Hall portraits that constantly expressed their concern, delight, and, at times, anguish at what was taking place as He-who-shall-not-be-named threatened and sought control over school life in his ongoing effort to destroy Harry. Laurie Pannell ably portraited the young wizard who, in an ever more determined and desperate straight, charged through the lives of the Hufflepuffs as they sought to master the basics of wizardry.

The play is built around the emerging friendships of three Hufflepuffs, Megan (Julia Lamport), Oliver (River Gray) and Wayne (Wyatt Lustberg), their struggles to find their center, and their and their classmates’ difficulties in and out of the classroom over their seven incredibly eventful years at a certain school of magic.

Impressive was the original musical score created and performed by the student theatre band of Rafa Castillo, Octa Howard, Melissa Kang, Tina Liu, Matias Quesada and Orris Tracy-Deuss. Their music was as vital as any actor or set on stage and did a wonderful job of highlighting the drama and setting the overall mood. The play was written by Matt Cox and originally produced as an off-Broadway production. Cox developed the play as part of his residency at the University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance.

Danny Joseph, props manager, poses with stage crew members Adela Eastman and Marley Tracy-Deuss and teacher Larry Robjent. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“I’m having a blast,” said Mickey Healey at the show with his wife Holly. “Our granddaughter Evelyn is doing great. I also like music; it has just that right spooky touch to it.”

“I was nervous at first having to perform two roles (as a French woman and later as a small dragon), but now I am glad I did it,” said Evelyn of her first time on stage.

“I’m very proud of the students and all their work,” said Todd Ormiston, executive director of the school. “They and so many adults like Courtney and Larry poured hours into this event.”

In the end, on stage, as in the books and film, the Hufflepuffs struggled, for them being occasionally rated as the third-best class was like winning a world championship. Our three heroes, like Harry’s and his best friends and fellow Gryffindors Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, had their ups and downs, but they too rose to the occasion when Harry needed them and their fellow Hufflepuffs to triumph over evil.

“I liked that the play focused on the characters you don’t know much about,” said Wyatt Lustberg, who played the lead character Wayne. “In the books, you think about Harry as the one telling the story. As said in the end, I believe that magic is love. Love is the greatest magic.”

Mickey and Holly Healey are seen with granddaughter Evelyn and daughter Erica Burns. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“I enjoyed playing Oliver,” said River Gray. “Learning the lines was the easiest part for me, at least for tonight. Wyatt and I have been friends as we have been at the school for several years, but this role deepened our friendship and mine with Julia; she’s new this year.”

“As I am huge Potter head, I was super excited to have a lead role and be part of the remake, to help tell the ‘Puffs’ story,” said Julia Lamport, who played Megan. “From this experience, I probably learned how to get along better with people, multitask and manage my stress better.”

In theater, working together is critical to success.

“What I like about theater is that it provides a space where everyone can come together and is important, no matter their role or what they’re doing,” said Courtney Allen, theater teacher. “Theater is a community event where we all work toward creating something pretty magical. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your life experiences are. You and the others can come together and find common ground. I am so proud of these kids. Having the opportunity to work with them has been outstanding.”

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)

Ann Hurd is with Matt Preston-Smith. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Starting at $1.44/week.

Subscribe Today